Cybersquatting Goes Social

    April 22, 2009
    Chris Crum

Cybersquatting is not a new problem on the web. People have been squatting on domains for years. The Anticybersquatting Consumer Protection Act defines cybersquatting as registering, trafficking in, or using a domain name with bad faith intent to profit from the goodwill of a trademark belonging to someone else. The cybersquatter then offers to sell the domain to the person or company who owns a trademark contained within the name at an inflated price. And it’s on the rise…

Domain Graph
 WIPO Domain Name Cases

This may become a bigger issue in social media. Recently we looked at a Twitter account purchased by CNN (they actually acquired the "services" of the account holder…presumably to avoid the buying/selling of a Twitter account and breaking any terms of service).

That may not have been a case of cybersquatting exactly, but it’s not hard to imagine it getting the wheels turning in the minds of the unethical. The same goes for Facebook Pages.

Chris Lynch at Inside Facebook recently discussed a Facebook page called "Brooklyn, New York," which is not owned by that city, but rather somebody trying to sell ads on it.  Lynch suggests that this could run counter to Facebook’s Terms, which say:

Facebook Pages are special profiles used solely for commercial, political, or charitable purposes. You may not set up a Facebook Page on behalf of another individual or entity unless you are authorized to do so. This includes fan Facebook Pages, as well as Facebook Pages to support or criticize another individual or entity.

Brooklyln Facebook Page

"In this case, it’s Facebook setting the rules," says Lynch. "Although it’s possible for hundreds of Pages to exist with the same name, Facebook’s Pages team is working to consolidate all Pages named after companies or brands under the official ownership or the brand or its agency. However, whether those policies strictly apply to cases like Pages named after cities is more ambiguous."

There are many Facebook Pages that are simply there to support brands, as mentioned in the terms. They’re created by fans with no ill will. So what do you do if someone else has a page set up for your brand, assuming you don’t want to wait on Facebook to sort it out?

Actually Inside Facebook’s Justin Smith posted an article about this that we referenced at WebProNews a while back. Options you have include:

– Ask Facebook to transfer control of the Page to you

– Ask the Page owners to transfer control to you

– Ask the Page owner to share control with you

– Ask Facebook to shut the Page down

– Let the Page continue to exist, and start an "official" Page of your own

Each option has its potential pros and cons as Smith explains, but I feel like the last one will be the best option in many cases because it’s the one least likely to tick anyone off. If you demand it be shut down, you may or may not get your wish, but either way it may leave a bad taste in the mouths of people who are already fans of your brand.

In any case, I’d probably try to avoid the forceful options. It doesn’t seem logical to put your reputation in jeopardy over something that is promoting your brand in the first place. Certainly there would be exceptions though, and the situation should dictate the appropriate action.